One of my greatest frustrations as a Christians is acquiring knowledge from the Bible that I did not understand. For example, Proverbs says “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given” (Proverbs 19:17 NKJV). The scripture suggest that you put God in your debt when you help the poor, and he will pay his debt. But it also left me with a question. How will God pay back what I have given? Will money mysteriously appear in my bank account? Will $20 bills fall from heaven?
Sometimes experience is the best teacher. I discovered what the scripture meant shortly after the release of my second book Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot. The book is a compilation of stories people have shared with me. I owed those people a free copy of the book; the only payment they received for telling me their story. While pursuing the daunting task of locating 44 people to personally thank them for their contribution and pay my debt, a pastor’s wife invited me and my husband to lunch.
Her husband was in the book, and he had recently moved his congregation into a new facility. I made arrangements to attend their church, so we could see the new facility and go to lunch after the service.
That Sunday, I took a book from the box of books I had in the trunk of my car and walked into the church. A lady tapped me on the shoulder. “I want a copy of your book.” It was not my purpose to sell books that day. But the service had not started, and I had more books in the trunk. She left to get her purse. Another lady pointed to the book, “I want a copy of your book.” My husband left to get two more books from the car. About that time the pastor walked by, and I gave him his copy before anyone else asked for it.
During service the pastor asked me to come to the pulpit and say a few words. I was not prepared for an impromptu few words. I went to the platform and babbled something for which my husband later rebuked me. But my comments couldn’t have been too bad. When I sat down several people sitting behind me whispered, “I want your book.”
About that time the pastor encouraged the congregation to get out of their seats and greet one another. I told the pastor several people had asked to purchase my book, and I had extra books I could sell at the end of the service. He relayed that information to the congregation before he preached his sermon.
At the end of the service I stood in the foyer with my box of books. The first customer extended a $20. I didn’t have change. I apologized for the lack of change, but he insisted I take the $20. I tried to reason with him. “I’m selling the book for $15. It retails for $16.99. You are giving me too much.” He threw the $20 in the box, grabbed the book out of my hand and left. I was trying to process why anyone would give me more than I was asking when it happened again. Then I thought maybe I should sell the book for $20! I sold a few more copies to people who wrote checks and had credit cards. Then another person handed me a $20. Again, I apologized for not having change. She insisted. This time I didn’t resist and now had $15 dollars in tips.
The church emptied, and I had started to collect my things when a woman I had known for 25 years approached. Sis Mac was an elderly widow living on a fixed income and caring for her adult handicapped son when I met her. Her son had recently died and she lost his income that helped her pay bills. She smiled sweetly at me and said, “Teena, how much for your book?”
“Fifteen”, I replied.
Her smile faded. I saw the disappointment in her eyes. Then I had an epiphany. I would have gladly given this poor widow a book at my expense, but I didn’t have to. God had already paid for Sis. Mac’s book.